DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado’s aerospace industry is about the lead the way into space with the Orion Project.

The test flight for a capsule that could take man back to the moon or even as far away as Mars lifts off Thursday morning.

The Orion’s heat shield was made by the people at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, and United Launch Alliance in Centennial built the rocket that will lift it into space. The whole event will be able to be seen courtesy of flight cameras built buy Ball Aerospace in Broomfield.

(credit: CBS/NASA)

(credit: CBS/NASA)

On Tuesday scientists held a briefing about how the countdown to Thursday morning’s launch is going.

”Thursday is a huge day — it is the beginning of actually putting Orion in space,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program Manager.

And it will be a huge day for Colorado. The Colorado-built rocket will launch Orion into space in 17 minutes.

(credit: CBS/NASA)

(credit: CBS/NASA)

“It will be the first time in 40 years that this nation, the most powerful nation in the world, has ever designed and built a spacecraft intended to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit, and that’s a big, big deal,” said Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator.

The orbit will be 15 times further than the International Space Station, traveling 3,600 miles above Earth.

Although the capsule Lockheed Martin built is high-tech, reusable and light years ahead of the Apollo mission that put human footprints on the moon, the re-entry to Earth hasn’t changed much.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

CBS News hitched a ride with the Navy on the USS Anchorage as NASA tested out Orion in the Pacific Ocean recently. During the test run it took nearly 3 hours to hook Orion and drag it out of the water. They flooded the back of the Navy ship and eventually guided the capsule on board.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

All of the testing is being done in preparation to carry six astronauts into space someday.

“What I think about is the future, and this is one of several vehicles that we’re looking at to get the United States back in a spacecraft into space,” NASA astronaut Nicole Stott said. “This one for sure is one that’s going to take us farther than we’ve gone in a very long time.”

Orion is critical to NASA because the agency retired the space shuttle program in 2011. That’s forced American astronauts to rely on the Russians for rides into space.
American astronauts are training to go into space in 6 or 7 years.

CBS4 will report live from Cape Canaveral beginning Wednesday. Watch the launch live on CBS4 Morning News on Thursday at 5 a.m.

LINKS: NASA-Orion | Lockheed Martin-Orion

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